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The Tuesday Take: Is Brunell Back?

Sep 26, 2006, 4:24 PM EST

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Tandler’s Redskins Blog Ver. 09.26.06: The Tuesday Take–While Mark Brunell’s performance on Sunday answered some questions, others remain. Plus a look ahead at the Jaguars, who go by the simple philosophy that if the other team doesn’t have the ball it’s hard for it to win.

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

It was only Houston. They were only dink and dunk passes. So what.

That was the reaction of Mark Brunell’s detractors to his NFL-record 22 consecutive pass completions on Sunday, a performance that wound up with the much-maligned quarterback going 24 of 27 for 261 yards and one touchdown, a quarterback rating for the game of 119.3.

And, to an extent, it’s a justified reaction. Houston has the worst defense in the league statistically. They’re almost 100 yards a game behind the team ranked 31st. While such stats can be misleading early in the season, they seem to be pretty darn accurate in this case. They have no impact players, they have no identity as a unit; they’re just not very good.

But there have been some pretty bad defenses in the history of the NFL and in all the thousands of games played before this one nobody has completed 22 consecutive forward passes in one game. Not Unitas against the pitiful Redskins teams of the early 60’s, not Jurgensen against the expansion Saints, not Montana playing the horrid Bucs teams of the late ‘80’s, not Marino while the Dolphins were regularly beating up on the Bills, not Manning in facing these Texans twice a year. Nobody.

This doesn’t qualify Brunell for the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t mean that his struggles are over. But to brush it off and say that anyone from your little sister to a horrible NFL quarterback could complete 22 straight passes against an NFL defense is going to the other extreme and not giving him enough credit.

Yes, they were short passes. The record would have be exponentially more impressive had even a couple more of the attempts been of the length of the one on which David Patten made that spectacular catch 25 yards downfield. On at least a couple of occasions it looked like Brunell had time to find a receiver downfield but he checked down to Ladell Betts or another receiver roaming a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Redskins will need to go deep in the passing game on occasion if they are going to beat the better teams on their schedule. Brunell needs to develop the confidence to throw the intermediate and deep routes and the patience to wait for those plays to develop when he’s getting time to throw.

But for six games, including the preseason, no facet of the offense was working well. It was a train wreck. Now it appears that a few of the cars have been put back onto the track. We will see if the rest of the mess can be straightened out.

Jaguars a team in possession

In taking an early look at the Jacksonville Jaguars, one number jumps out—23. That’s the average number of possession minutes that the Jags’ three opponents have managed so far this season. And this meager total has been compiled by some quality opponents in Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis. There’s nary a stiff among them.

The flip side of that coin is that the Jaguars’ offense has had the ball for 37 minutes a game. There is no secret formula for putting up numbers like this. You run the ball and you stop the run. The Jags defense has allowed just 59 yards a game on the ground, the third-best total in the league. They’re eighth in the league in rushing offense, but they’re third in rushing attempts. Jacksonville is one of just four teams who have run the ball more than 100 times. That’s 33 times a game and even though their average is mediocre at 3.7 yards a crack, they keep at it and they wear their opponents down.

The closer the Redskins come to evening up that time of possession the better their chances will be of pulling the upset (yes, the Redskins are a three-point dog at home). That means showing the same patience with the running game that the Jags have shown. It also means not prolonging Jacksonville’s possessions and shortening their own by creating a bunch of yellow laundry all over the field. They won’t be able to bail out of very many first and 20 or second and 15 situations like they could against Houston.

  1. mbarnes202 - Sep 27, 2006 at 1:40 PM

    Here’s my take on whether Brunnel is back:

    The Redskins threaten the middle of the field with the run, and the outside of the field with the short passing game.

    If the Redskins can get good yardage up the middle, either via the run or a center screen or a shovel pass, this will force the defenders to play straight up. This will allow the outside players to make their magic happen, and the ‘Skins offense can be very successful, even without passing deep.

    If the ‘Skins cannot get anything going up the middle, the corners and outside backers will cheat ever more towards the sidelines and up to the line of scrimmage, and jump the routes and shut down the short passing game.

    If Brunnel was accurate with the long pass, without having perfect protection, we could really punish teams who do this. But I don’t think Brunnel can do this. Not many QBs can, so it’s not saying he’s no good, but this is a weakness that must be frustrating to Saunders– with Lloyd and Moss, we could really punish teams who cheat against the screen.

    So, to answer your question, Brunnel has limitations that can be exploited by good defensive teams, especially those very strong on the line. I expect Brunnel to struggle greatly against the Jags.

    On two other notes/questions:
    1. What is wrong with Griffen and Marcus Washington? They are playing fine, but not dominating. Their dominating play was the key to our dominating defensively, and there just seems to be something missing.

    2. We really need a big, athletic TE to be a devastating blocker and run seam and post routes to defeat cover-2s– Cooley’s role seems to have been suplanted by Randle-El.

    Finally, keys to the Jags game, in my eyes:
    1. The Obvious: If we can’t shut down Jacksonville’s running game, we’re doomed. We need to cause either Drew, Taylor, or Leftwhich to fumble the ball. Preferably more than once.

    2. Punish Overpursuit: We need to make the Jags really pay for over-pursuing the sweep and/or screen plays. Something like a double-reverse, or an option pass. Keep those safeties back!

    3. (Obvious, redux): We need to “do the little things” (a) win the special teams battle; and (b) win the penalty battle.

    I’m hoping that we can jump out in front, or force a few three-and-outs. This will keep the fans into the game, and provide energy for our defense. Here’s hoping.

    Mike

  2. Matt K - Sep 30, 2006 at 3:38 PM

    Mike, I couldn’t agree more about Griffin and Washington… I thought Cornelius, especially, has been the key to our success for the past year — witness the lull when he was hurt for a few games in ’05 — but the first weeks of this season make me wonder if Shawn Springs hasn’t been more important all along. At least I hope it’s Springs’s absence, and Gregg Williams’s consequent caution,that explain our limp defense in the first three weeks. The other possibility is simply that Rogers isn’t that good after all, the D-Line overachieved tremendously last season, and Griffin and Washington are also experiencing a mild regression. That’s scary.

    On offense, the key is the running game. Brunell was efficient last week, and got a major confidence boost — all to the good. But the Texans have the worst pass defense in the league, so it’s not like an improvement was unexpected. What excited me most against Houston was our ground game. The Eagles and Colts destroyed the Texans, too, but they didn’t run nearly as well as we did: 200+ yds! (of course, they’re passing teams, but still). If the positive takeaway from the Texans game is that Brunell can successfully complete a lot of WR screens and RB flat passes against a dreadful defense, I’m not impressed (the plays against Houston looked exactly the same as the plays against Dallas — only this time they worked!) But if the takeaway is that Portis’s absence hurt more than expected, that the O-line (despite too many holds) is rounding into form, and that we can be a dominant team on the ground, freeing up the pass… well, then count me in on the bandwagon.

  3. Anonymous - Oct 4, 2006 at 12:39 AM

    Thought you said you would post more often. Seems I need new glasses.

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